An architectural marvel, a mystical mountain or simply stuff that bucket lists are made of? It is thrilling to unravel Machu Picchu.
Journey to the UNESCO World Heritage Site started at Cusco– a city in the Peruvian Andes that was once the capital of the Inca Empire, and a gateway to the heavenly site. Taking a three-and-a-half hour train journey is the only way to get to the Inca ruins other than hiking the arduous 4-day Inca Trail that goes through the Sacred Valley. For those who love of rails, can opt for a first-class voyage aboard the enchanting Belmond Hiram Bingham train that departs from Poroy station, located on the outskirts of Cuso (a 30-minute ride from Cusco). Your great luxury South American sojourn kick started from the moment when you arrive at the train station. All that excitement doubled up on catching a glimpse of the train’s deep-blue coloured carriages modeled after the British Pullman carriages of the 1920s and decorated with golden writing. After all, a visit to once –in-a-lifetime journey!
After enjoying a glamourous welcome with an exuberant performance by traditional Andean dancers dressed in colourful grab and elegant champagne drinks and canapes, take a glass of Pisco sour, sit back and take in the unmatched views from my window seat. As the train slowly moved towards Aguas Calientes following Urubamba River, the scenery became more dramatic with narrow valleys and towering mountain peaks dominating the skyline.
On arrival in Aguas Calientes, all passengers are required to take a 30-minute private shuttle bus ride to the citadel of Machu Picchu. A symbol of wonder and beauty, Machu Picchu- which means “Old Mountain” in the Quechua language- is a 550-year-old citadel nestled in what looks like a cradle of surrounding mountain. Built 7,973 ft above sea level and covering 116 square miles, the ruins are large, almost the size of a village. Stepping inside the structures of Machu Picchu is like stepping inside a natural cathedral! It’s hard to believe but these massive structures were built by the Incas without using wheels, iron tools, or even mortar. Instead, the rocks were cut to fit together perfectly which makes it an engineering marvel. There is something mysterious about this imposing Incan archaeo-logical site-the densely-forested location, the misty atmosphere with swirling clouds, the way Urubamba river wraps around the site in an omega shape, Ilamas grazing freely on massive agricultural terraces, the sacred temples, the quiet and tranquil atmosphere despite the crowds of tourists or the fact that it remains to be a burial ground. While trying to sum up my experience in the mystical city, I cloud only think of explorer Hiram Bingham’s words: “Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land”.
DID YOU KNOW?
Machu Picchu was never supposed to be discovered.This Incans were concerned about the Spanish discovering and ransacking the valuables there. To prevent the same, a few years after the city was built in 1532, the Incans vacated it, burning the forest on the way out so the regrowth would cover the pathways up the mountain… until, of course, Yale University lecturer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- If you’re planning to trek up to Machu Picchu, acclimatise for 2 to 3 days in Cusco first.
- Do carry your passport to Machu Picchu for entry purpose, and most importantly, to collect one of the world’s coolest stamps.
- Pick a train to suit your budget While Inca Rail and Peru Rail are budget options, Belmond Hiram Bingham train gives you a chance to indulge in a delicious three- course meal and savour local wine in vintage carriages.